Biennale Curators Build a Future from Russia’s Industrial Past

Event: Factory Russia: Russian Pavilion Exhibition at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.09.10
Speakers: Sergei Tchoban — Partner, NPS Tchoban Voss, & Principal, SPEECH
Moderator: Rick Bell, FAIA — Executive Director, AIANY
Introduction: Vladimir Belogolovsky — Founder, Intercontinental Curatorial Project
Organizers: AIANY

Vyshny Volochyok_Photo-Yuri Palmin_300

The Paris Commune Factory, one of several industrial sites in Vyshny Volochyok proposed for renewal under the Factory Russia plan.

Yuri Palmin

“Our future is in a respectful dialogue with the past,” claimed St. Petersburg-born, Germany-based architect Sergei Tchoban, in a preview presentation of Russia’s contribution to this year’s Venice Biennale. For the Biennale, that dialogue is about a former industrial town of 60,000, halfway between St. Petersburg and Moscow called Vyshyny Volochyok.

Tchoban set the stage by discussing the historic renovations carried out by his firm, NPS Tchoban Voss. Photographs of Berolinahaus, for example, an art-deco office building designed by Peter Behrens on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, depicted restored façades and recreated period details. (Tchoban noted the environmental benefits of preserving the “embedded energy” that goes into a building’s initial construction.) He illustrated how these considerations — of history and human-scale architectural details — appear in Russian buildings and master plans developed by SPEECH, his collaboration with Moscow-based architect Sergei Kuznetsov.

For the Venice Biennale, he and his co-curators invited several Russian architects to re-imagine new programs for shuttered industrial sites scattered throughout Vyshny Volochyok. Though “everybody knows this town doesn’t need a Museum of Modern Art,” Tchoban said, he presented plans for cultural programs that would be contextually appropriate: a theater and institute dedicated to preserving local folk music, and a museum of industrial technology. A waterfront site would become a water recreation area. Historic buildings would be repurposed. And one site would return to active industrial use as a textile factory anchoring a fashion district. New programs and buildings are essential to renew interest in this and similar small towns, he said, if they are to compete with the major metropolises like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In summarizing the curators’ primary concern, Tchoban explained, “The problem with our occupation in past years was that we began to be spectacular, and more spectacular, and much more spectacular. We’ve lost our imagination of ‘town,’ our imagination of human scale, and I think that’s the most important point of what we’ve worked out [in the Russian pavilion].”